Sleep Science • Article

Are You Sleep Deprived Because of the Pandemic?

Beth Levine

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If you feel like you have been sleep deprived during the past 12 months or more, you have a lot of company.


According to the American Academy of Sleep Science, 33% of Americans have experienced an impact to sleep quality, 30% have seen change in their ability to fall asleep and 29% reported a negative change in the nightly amount of sleep because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, nearly 20% of American adults are experiencing more disturbing dreams.


It's something we should all take seriously, cautions W. Christopher Winter, MD, D-ABSM, D-ABIM (sleep), D-ABPN (neurology), President of Charlottesville Neurology, Virginia.


“I think that this is just the tip of the iceberg, frankly, in terms of the sequel of this problem," he says.


Sleep disturbances may become chronic, lasting long after the pandemic subsides, and lack of sleep can lead to a host of mental and physical problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control.


Read more: Sleep Is Essential for Health and Well-Being


Reasons Why You May Be Sleep Deprived — And How to Get Quality Sleep in the Age of COVID-19

There is no one cause for all this restlessness, but a perfect storm of many. Here is what is happening — and what you can do about it.


1. No Schedule

Your schedule is disrupted, causing you to lose track of time. You're working from home, you don't commute, your kids go nowhere. Your body doesn't really understand where it is in time. There are no markers where the day begins or ends, and you end up oversleeping in the morning and staying up late. If you have a bad night, there's really nothing stopping you (well, except work of course) from sleeping until noon or taking a three-hour nap between your Zoom meetings.



  • Build a timetable. “You don't see a lot of sleep disturbances in the military because their day is so regimented. We don't need to be quite that regimented but it helps to have a set schedule," says Dr. Winter, who is also the author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, set aside specific times for work, exercise, meals, dog walking and leisure. You don't have to be rigid—let's face it, stuff happens—but try to keep to it as much as possible. Just because you can stay up all night gaming doesn't mean you should. Creative tip: Some people have luck in trying to recreate the sensation of commuting by taking their coffee and newspaper, and sitting on top of a running dryer, which feels like a subway or bus. “It helps your brain start to orient itself as to where you are," says Dr. Winter.

  • Try the free Sleep30® Challenge by Sleep Number to improve your bedtime habits. 82% of participants experience better sleep quality, 74% improve or change a poor sleep habit.



When you are stuck at home, you are surrounded by low natural light all the time. This can mess with your circadian rhythm; your body isn't getting the message of when it's time to wake up or go to bed.



  • Expose yourself to a brighter, more natural light during the day. Go for a walk, or work outside if the weather allows it. If you live in a naturally gray place like Anchorage or Seattle, invest in brighter lights for the home. Install dimmer switches so you can lower the lights in the evening — it signals your brain that the sun is going down, and that it's time to wrap things up.

  • Reduce your screen time. In times of lockdowns, curfews and restricted gatherings, it may feel like the only thing to do is to play with your phone/laptop/TV/gaming system. But according to the Salk Institute, the light from the screens interrupts your circadian rhythm, confusing your internal clock. At the least, limit your nighttime screen fest, and get off your devices at least two hours before bedtime, says Dr. Winter: “Obviously, you aren't going to just sit in the dark for two hours, but if you do watch TV, keep the lights and sound low, and don't watch something like A Nightmare on Elm Street."


If you're looking for a data-proven way to sync your rhythm, Sleep Number® smart bed sleepers who use the bed's circadian rhythm feature improve their bedtime and wake time consistency by 35 minutes for better quality sleep.*



There is no way around it, we live in a highly stressful time and we all ponder variations of “Is the world coming to the end? Am I going to die, are my kids going to get sick? Will I find another job and pay off debt?" While there is no denying these concerns are real, there are ways to reduce the anxiety.



  • Take a break from the news. Don't stay up all night doom scrolling. While keeping up to date on news is very important, you don't need a 24-hour feed. Catch your news in the morning, if you can, and if you can't, shut it off after 9 p.m. Watch lighter fare, or read a good book instead.

  • Meditate. YouTube has plenty of guided meditation videos. Try a white noise box or rainfall simulation. “You feel so much better and that's really empowering knowing that you can do that anytime. You may not be able to fall asleep in five minutes, anytime, but you can definitely rest any time," says Dr. Winter.

  • Go to bed later. If you find yourself waking up many times in the night, set your bedtime back an hour but wake up at the same time. If you are not exercising as much, you may not need as much sleep. “It doesn't intuitively feel right but that's usually the right thing to do," says Dr Winter.Sleep Number SleepIQ® sleepers who say they exercise regularly are the most restful overall, have the highest (best) SleepIQ® score, and the lowest average heart rate and breath rate compared to those who exercise occasionally or rarely.***

  • Don't fight it if you can't stay asleep. Have a plan for midcycle wake-ups: Get up and read quietly for a short time or meditate while lying in bed. And make sure you're sleeping on the best mattress for you and your partner. Sleep Number® bed owners get almost 100 hours more proven quality sleep per year.**

  • Seek professional help. If you are feeling totally overwhelmed, see a mental health specialist who can teach you coping techniques or prescribe medication.



We are social beings at heart, so this forced isolation has been difficult for many of us. According to the American Psychological Association, social isolation and loneliness can lead to a host of physical and mental illnesses. Depression, in particular, can cause insomnia or oversleeping, says The Sleep Foundation. “Right now, many of us are feeling disconnected from other people, and it is having a very negative effect," says Dr. Winter.



  • Plan Active Virtual Get-togethers. By now, everyone is bored and antsy with long Zoom or FaceTime calls. Plan ones that are more interactive: a book club or wine tasting, a board game session, an exercise challenge, or even a watch party. Stay in touch with grandchildren by reading out loud to them, and set up a pizza party with friends.

  • Make Future Plans. Even if you can't go anywhere now, plan for future fun—a trip, the immersive Van Gogh exhibit, a reunion. “The anticipation gives us something to look forward to and lifts our spirits," says Dr. Winter.

  • Seek Professional Help. If you are feeling like you really can't cope, see a mental health specialist.



With gyms and other outlets closed, many of us have fallen behind in the exercise department. According to The Sleep Foundation, people with chronic insomnia who began a regular exercise regime fell asleep 13 minutes faster and stayed asleep 18 minutes longer. In fact, study authors found that exercise was as effective as certain sleep medications.



  • Build exercise into your schedule. All you need is 30 minutes a day, alternating aerobics, stretching, and strength training. There are many good videos on YouTube to follow. Or it can be a simple as going for walk (and reaping the extra benefit of the sunshine). Try not to exercise too strenuously right before bedtime—use that time for yoga, tai chi or gentle stretches. Sleep Number SleepIQ® sleepers who do gentle exercise, like yoga, get the most restful sleep.***


Like diet and exercise, quality sleep has a profound impact on our physical, emotional and mental well-being. Because no two people sleep the same, Sleep Number 360® smart beds, with SleepIQ® technology, sense your movements and automatically adjust firmness, comfort and support to keep you both sleeping comfortably and provide proven quality sleep. Find your Sleep Number® setting for your best possible night's sleep, and if you own a Sleep Number bed, log into your InnerCircle Rewards account to see your exclusive offers, refer friends and more.


*Based on SleepIQ® data from 6/9/20 to 8/15/20 of sleepers who viewed the circadian rhythm feature vs. those who did not, with sleep timing capturing bedtime and wake time consistency.

**Based on internal analysis of sleep sessions assessing sleepers who use multiple features of Sleep Number products. Claim based on sleepers achieving over 15 more minutes of restful sleep per sleep sessions.


***Based on SleepIQ® data from 1/2/20 to 1/1/21 and self-reported responses of sleepers using SleepIQ® technology from 5/12/19 – 1/1/21


Beth Levine is an award-winning veteran health writer whose work has been published in major media outlets such as, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, AARP Magazine and AARP Bulletin.

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